One undeniable aspect of Scottie and Dennis is that they have many connections in the ski world, and everywhere in general. Today, thanks to a few of their many friends who they have kept in touch with, our team had two unique opportunities. After our incredible morning ski at the Olympic trails and an adventurous lunch of sandwiches, we headed to the Swix factory and headquarters only 10 minutes away. The building had just been redone and completed in 2015 so it was a new experience for everyone, including our coaches. Harald Bjerke, a longtime employee and friend of Dennis’s welcomed us to the elegant Swix factory and office building with a huge smile on his face. We oohed and aahed at the huge amounts of Swix products in the store as we walked in, but before we could take in too much, Harald led us upstairs to a large sunlit conference room for a special presentation. Swix had spoiled us with plates of food on the long table that we enjoyed as Harald explained the history of Swix and ski wax in general. He went chronologically from when wax was invented and people only used wooden skis, to when glide wax was invented and Bill Koch sparked the skate technique, to modern waxing technology.
The world of nordic waxing has evolved immensely over the years, getting more and more specialized and scientific. Lots of money is even put into research about how we can reduce the environmental and health hazards caused by waxing. Harald described how the hardness of wax has to match with the hardness of the snow for it to kick, and how the wax actually allows a ski to kick. He also included old US ski team pictures of the one and only Tim Caldwell who sat just down the table from us and laughed when he saw himself on the screen. The slideshow concluded and we left the room with much more waxing knowledge than we had when we walked in.
Harald led us down a wide hallway lined with spacious offices and then into a big warehouse where we could see thousands of Swix wax blocks being packaged and loaded and shipped. We walked through another door into a smaller room that smelled like our wax rooms at home x100. We saw a number of cylindrical containers and Harald told us that this was where all the wax was mixed and produced. There we were, looking in the single room where 51% of all the world’s wax is made. Every block of Swix wax that I have ever used came from this room, emphasizing the relatively small size of the ski world.
Most of the team stayed for the last ten minutes of the tour, but six of us had an incredible opportunity to meet with a man named Erik Stange, a Dartmouth grad student that Scottie has kept in contact with. His office was conveniently two minutes away from the Swix factory so Scottie drove us over to meet him. He led Tim, Keelan, Greta, Kennedy, Malcolm and I into his building, and we soon learned that the high glass ceilings and many windows were a result of legislation requiring natural light in every work space. We sat in a sunlit conference room with light wooden walls, and Erik introduced himself and told us about what he does for work. Over the course of an hour the six of us asked Erik questions and he answered them in detail. He explained the difference between American and Norwegian environmental policies and attitudes, as well as touching upon Norwegian politics.
Most of Norway’s electricity comes from hydropower because the country has so much snow runoff and dramatic terrain so lots of energy can be harnessed from dams. This means that the electricity is very cheap, but at the same time Norway produces huge amounts of oil and its oil sales have a hugely positive impact on the country’s economy. So even though Norway is known as very environmentally friendly, it ironically can be that way because of the income from oil. Gas prices here are incredibly high: 8 dollars per gallon. These high prices along with other incentives convince many people to buy electric cars or use public transportation. Composting is also much more involved here in Norway. Next to almost every trashcan you pass, there is a compost as well. Erik told us that you can compost most waste, like diapers, meats, and all other food scraps. The composting system is government run and is made back into soil which is then sold. Generally, Norway has figured out how to take better care of the earth than America, but the overarching takeaway from the meeting was that we have a lot more to do. We walked out of his building thanking him for sharing his knowledge with us and inspiring us to get involved. After a quick trip to the Swix shop (we got lots of extra blue socks) we headed home, tired after a long but fantastic day. Thank you to Harald and Erik for teaching us so much!